Nobility is an exclusive class with certain social privileges. They reign and typically pass this power on to their children. The claim to power is, among other things, based on achievements, ancestry and so-called divine intention. The noble class developed at different times in different cultures all over the world. Nobility in the sense of an exclusive social class with certain social privileges is a universal phenomenon that first emerged in the early advanced civilisations.

As opposed to other regions in the world, European nobility was usually organised by social rank. In this system, certain rights, privileges, duties and codes of conduct applied to nobility. When many of these countries transitioned to democratic and socialist republics or constitutional monarchies, European nobility largely lost its significance.

Depending on the region, noble families historically found themselves in different legal and social circumstances. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the nobility system still remains mostly intact, whereas in Germany noble duties and privileges no longer apply. In other countries like Austria, noble privileges were abolished altogether and in places such as France and Russia, nobility was abolished by means of persecution, banishment, imprisonment and murder. However, even in countries where nobility no longer enjoys special privileges, noble families still form a rather separate social group with different customs and a distinctive ethos particular to their class.